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Ideas for Parents
By Mark Matlock Christopher Lyon
ZondervanCopyright © 2012 Mark Matlock
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSECTION 1
This section offers Real World Parents some practical advice on how to deepen and expand family connections. You know, of course, that you should be more than just housemates with your kids; but as their lives become as busy as yours, that feeling of belonging together can fade.
How do I maintain those bonds with my kids? What can I do if I sense that my kids are pulling away in an unhealthy manner? And what can we actually do together that will be more meaningful than staring at different screens in the same room?
This section will address those questions and more.
Parenting Q&A with Bart Millard of MercyMe: Show Up and Be Real
Parenting Q&A and Activity with Richard Ross: Rebuild the Heart Connection with Your Child
Idea: Ask Again What You Really Know
Idea: Give the Gift of Your Attention
Activity: Play "Show Us Your Day"
Activity: Toast Each Other
Activity: Fill the Love Jar
Wise Counsel from Steve Greenwood: Say "I'm Sorry" Together
SHOW UP AND BE REAL
BART MILLARD OF MERCYME
Bart Millard, lead singer of the hugely popular Christian music group MercyMe, was at one time an unlikely candidate to become either an internationally recognized recording artist or a representative for Christ from stages around the globe. Growing up, his home life was often challenging at best, leaving him cold toward the big ideas taught at the church he was forced to attend.
But something changed during his freshman year in high school. More specifically, someone changed. Bart's dad responded to a crisis in their lives by drawing close to God in a way he'd never done before—and Bart was watching. That response not only changed Bart's relationship with God and with his dad, but it's still impacting his parenting choices today.
What was your family like growing up?
My parents divorced when I was three. My dad was verbally abusive. He never laid a finger on Mom, but he was a very big and strong guy. If there was a diamond necklace she loved, he would destroy that in front of her—that kind of guy. It was pretty rough.
We lived with her for a while, from when I was about three years old until third grade. I [spent] every other weekend with my dad.
And then my mom remarried. She had actually been married once already to [my] extremely abusive stepdad [who] had broken her arm. She got out of that marriage and remarried again to a really great guy, and he was transferred [from Dallas] to San Antonio.
My brother [Stephen], who's five years older than I am, really wanted to stay with his friends, and he had a really great relationship with my dad—we both did. So [my parents] decided they would let Stephen stay with dad and live in the Dallas area and go to school. And they didn't want to separate my brother and me.
I ended up living with my dad from third grade up until I was on my own, [which happened] when he passed away when I was nineteen. So I spent most of my life with my dad. I would see my mom on holidays.
My dad was a scary guy to live with. He had a really bad temper. But I was a pretty rebellious kid at times early in life. I found myself getting in trouble a lot and kind of paying the price, too. My dad spanked me a lot.
And then in my freshman year in high school, my father was diagnosed with cancer. That was probably one of the best things that happened to me and my dad, which is kind of ironic. But that's when my dad got his life right with Christ. He started to fall intimately in love with Jesus. And by the time my freshman year in college came around, when my father passed away, he had gone from [being] this guy I was really afraid of becoming one day to a guy I wanted to be when I grew up.
Bart, you've told me your dad made you go to church every Sunday, even though he didn't go. But it wasn't until your dad started falling in love with Jesus himself that you really connected to God. What would you say to parents who take their kids to church every Sunday but don't go themselves? Talk a little about how the authenticity of your father's transformation made a real difference in your life.
First, I do give him credit for just making me go to church, because there was structure there that didn't exist in my life growing up. Dad would get me to church. He'd make the church van come and pick me up at home. He'd get me there.
There was definitely a little double standard. The guy was incredibly mean-tempered. He could lose it at any moment, but [he would say], "You're going to church." I used to resist that. But it did instill in me that there's definitely a need to be there.
And then when he was diagnosed, something changed to where all of this going-to-church business took on life. I started seeing a transformation in my dad when no one else was watching, which was very unusual for me. I saw somebody making godly decisions and apologizing and encouraging and doing these things I'd heard about in church but had never happened to me.
The Bible would be left open by his bed every night, and I saw his attitude transform in front of me. I started seeing what it meant to actually have a relationship with Christ—to intimately love Christ. That's when everything changed for me in a huge way. All of a sudden, I had a desire to be a part of the body of Christ.
It's huge for any kid to go through that when they're in the middle of high school, in the middle of knowing everything and thinking they've got it all together—to see my dad wither away but at the same time become stronger and stronger in his faith.
In addition to your dad letting you see how God was changing him, is there anything else your parents did for you in the middle of all the craziness of your growing-up years that turned out to be really positive?
There are things I'm grateful for. With all of the selfishness taking place between my mom and dad, looking back, it's beyond me that they would ever consider keeping my brother and me together. And that was really important. My relationship with my brother is pretty incredible now because we stuck through this together.
Also, as far as my singing and wanting to go into ministry, my dad was very supportive of what I did, even though he knew it would be a long road and the odds of successfully doing it are pretty slim. Maybe it's because he was diagnosed by the time we actually started talking about what I wanted to do, but he was very adamant that you need to do what you love and what you feel God is calling you to do.
And my dad was very generous. We didn't have much growing up, but in the Christmas season, even when dad seemed to be at his worst, he would go to great lengths to try to make somebody's Christmas a little better. He would always tell us that even if you don't have anything, if you have something to give to somebody else, it's going to make you feel like you have a lot.
It's just a little ironic to look at these moments of him being very noble. I've probably made him such a hero because of the last few years. Now I'm going through and trying to acknowledge some of the bad traits he passed on to me and things that have scarred me.
For a long time after someone passes away, you make him a martyr and you refuse to say anything bad about him. And sometimes it's a strain on your own marriage if you don't acknowledge that and realize there are things about [you] that are very much like [that person] and not productive at all.
So you think it helps you as a spouse and parent to be able to be honest and recognize both the positive and negative in your own parents?
Yes, absolutely. Some parents probably take it a little too far and blame their parents for everything they do wrong. When anything is out of balance, you've got to find the other side of it. I went through a long time where I was like, "He was the greatest person ever." I refused to admit that more times than not, he was a very, very bad father until the last few years of his life.
I always said, "we had issues" and my dad was a "rough father," but I never specifically addressed the issues I see my wife having a hard time with in me [now]. The worst thing a parent could ever say to himself or to his children or wife is, "That's just the way I am." [If you do that,] there's no room for change. You've already surrendered to the fact that this is what you're going to be from now on, and that's a horrible place to put the rest of your family. You're not willing to realize [that] God has called you to be who he is and anything's possible to overcome.
What are some messages that are vitally important for parents—maybe especially single parents—to give to their kids?
When my oldest son was two, he was diagnosed with diabetes. I remember sitting him down a little later in life, when he could comprehend what we were talking about, and explaining to him that this was no mistake. [I told him,] "It's not like God didn't see this coming. You're not an accident. This is exactly what God had planned for you. And the best thing you can do is to hit it head on and think, God must have something amazing planned for me to shape me this way and put me through this."
I realized after telling my son this [that] that's exactly where I was when I was a kid. My parents' divorce didn't shock God. It didn't sneak up on him. Before we ever took a breath, he knew the difficult things we were going to go through.
And the crazy thing is, if that's what it takes for my life to glorify him, then I believe he will do it. If he can put his perfect Son on the cross, then I'm pretty sure he's capable of doing anything he wants to me. God knows me better than I know myself. People ask, "Would you ever change anything that's taken place?" I don't think I could do that because there's a risk [that] I wouldn't be who I am today.
For whatever reason, God saw fit that this was the journey I was supposed to take. So the best advice I can give to single parents or even terminally ill parents or parents with terminally ill kids is that even though it looks incredibly out of control right now, God is still in control. He never steps off his throne. He never blinks. He never turns his back on you. This is exactly what he had in store for you. Even though it's hard to swallow and it doesn't make it hurt any less, if we start to believe that God at some point has lost the smallest ounce of control, then we are in much bigger trouble than what we're facing right now.
You wrote the song "Bring the Rain," which has a very similar message of trusting that God's plan for us is the best plan—even when it's painful. I think a lot of Christian parents are trying to avoid adversity or suffering, but that's something that seems to come with the Christian life. Can suffering be an opportunity for parents to show their kids the power of God?
People become obsessed with trying to protect their kids, as if they could avoid tragedy by keeping them locked away. Some people just stop living because they're afraid. It's missing the joy of riding a horse or a motorcycle or doing something that brings you alive because you're afraid you might fall. Man, what a sad, sad way to live. It's heartbreaking.
When we were recording "Bring the Rain," our producer kept saying, "Are you sure that's what you want to sing?"
I told him, "You know, it's inevitable. I'm not asking for it. Lord knows, I don't want it, at all. But it's just a part of life. And I don't want to stop living. I want to embrace life as much as I possibly can."
One of the things that helped you to really connect to God in this way was seeing the transformation in your father from sinner to almost saint. But you and I already had a relationship with God when we started raising our kids. So instead of seeing this radical change from terrible to better, our kids are forced to deal with our hypocrisy, in a sense. You saw huge positive contrast in your dad's life. Our kids see us trying to live a life for God but failing to do that perfectly. What are the challenges you see in that as a parent now—that your kids really see the power of God every day?
I'm in the same boat my dad was in, but it's coming from the opposite direction. I'm a Super Christian, according to all of my kids' friends and their parents and what they see on TV or whatever. Then they turn and look at me sitting on the couch with my stomach hanging out, eating a bowl of ice cream; and they say, "That's you? When are you going to put on the cape around here?" Man, it's been tough.
I guess a great example is when I was talking about how sometimes I was glorifying my dad when I wouldn't address some of the bad things about him. Some people will do the opposite. They'll vilify their dad. There may be some decent qualities that were passed on to [them], but they won't acknowledge [those qualities].
Well, I'm kind of doing that in real time. I'll have long conversations with Sam right now about how what he sees on TV or hears people say about me—it's not humanly possible to be that way. I'm trying to be as real to my son as possible. I always tell him, "Man, if I can make a difference for the kingdom—I mean, look at me—imagine what God can do with you."
A lot of the stuff in the Bible that we're talking about with Sam right now are the shortcomings of people like Samson and Moses and Paul and David—and how there was just so much wrong about some of these guys. If we saw them today, we'd say that obviously they couldn't be used by God at all. But David was a man after God's own heart, and he murdered somebody for his wife.
For whatever reason God chooses to keep using us. Obviously, I've not murdered anyone, but I still have issues in my life. I can think of a million reasons why God would never use me, but I can think of only one reason why he would. It's because he chose to use me.
We need to talk this stuff through.
For parents who have come from very inadequate parents themselves, how do you deal with the insecurity of thinking this could disqualify you from being a good parent, or even that it guarantees you won't do the job well?
Well, the best advice I was given before my son was ever born was, "If you're actually worried about being a good parent, you're going to be just fine."
It's almost like when you're trying to lose weight, you've got to get on the scale. The day you stop getting on the scale is the day you stop caring. Years from now, you're going to get on it and say, "How did I gain a hundred pounds? What happened?"
But every day you stand on the scale, it stays with you. It helps in the decisions you make for that day. And a lot of that applies to being a parent. As long as I keep asking the questions Am I being a decent parent? and Am I making the right decisions? it means I'm still in the game. I'm still concerned; it still matters to me that I'm a good parent.
The day you stop caring, stop asking questions—that's when it becomes extremely dangerous. It's not about being perfect parents; it's about being involved parents. Stay concerned. Keep working. Try to get better. Because I'm telling you, man, God's going to be faithful to honor that.
Find out more about Bart and MercyMe at mercyme.org. Or follow him on Twitter @BartMillard.
PARENTING Q&A AND ACTIVITY
REBUILD THE HEART CONNECTION WITH YOUR CHILD
Note: This activity involves the use of a product, a book developed by Richard Ross and Gus Reyes designed to help teens and parents connect on an emotional level. It's something we recommend. But even if you're not interested in the book, the information in the interview below is helpful in spelling out our need as parents to get intentional about making heart connections with our kids.
Richard Ross cares deeply about parents and their connections to their kids—especially teenage kids. As a professor of student ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has observed the relationships between Christian teens and their parents for several decades. He feels like something is broken, even among churched families.
Here he describes the problem and talks about a book he developed to help bridge that gap. It's called 30 Days: Turning the Hearts of Parents and Teenagers Toward Each Other (available from LifeWay.com).
Excerpted from Ideas for Parents by Mark Matlock Christopher Lyon Copyright © 2012 by Mark Matlock. Excerpted by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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